Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum is gearing up for their twenty-fifth anniversary and the release of their eighth studio album, Thalassic, on July 10th via Metal Blade Records. Frontman Petri Lindroos and I spoke over Skype about the new album and where Ensiferum is at musically in 2020.
Ensiferum was formed in 1995 by guitarist/vocalist Markus Toivonen and released their self-titled debut in 2001. In 2004, their singer/guitarist at the time Jari Mäenpää left the band for his side project Wintersun, and the band gave Petri Lindroos (ex-Norther) a call to fill in for their upcoming European tour. Now it’s been sixteen years and Petri’s passion for the band is still evident for all to see. “I cannot wait for the album to be out and have everyone hear it,” he says passionately. “It’s the first theme album of the band’s history and that is certainly bringing a new angle.”
Thalassic is Greek, meaning “relating to the sea or ocean”. Bassist and primary wordsmith Sami Hinkka put together an album’s worth of lyrics all tied together by the theme of water. “He’s the man behind the whole thing, but we did a very good job of bringing it to life with the songs, and I think the theme fits,” says Petri. This type of focus was new for the band members and has Petri optimistic about the future songwriting of Ensiferum, noting that further albums could see more work with themes. “This one’s not out yet so we’re not focused that much on the future, so we’ll have to wait and see…the sky is the limit.” Petri notes that the songwriting on Thalassic drove them to be more economic, stating the songs are “more compact and dynamic, more to the point basically…we cut out the unnecessary parts, and shortened the songs a bit,” allowing the music to flow as organically as possible.
A theme is not the only change present on Thalassic. Ensiferum also welcomes newcomer Pekka Montin on the keyboards and clean vocals. Petri had a glowing review of his new bandmate’s contribution, calling him a “magnificent boost” to the process. “He did one hell of a job interpreting the songs in his voice…it’s definitely bringing a big change to the songs on the album.” Montin’s debut with the band can be heard on the album’s lead single, “Rum, Women, Victory,” which is available to stream now. “It’s a kickass tune, and it introduces him well…we thought it would fit very good as a first taste.” That’s not all you’ll hear Pekka’s pipes on; the new track, “One with the Sea” is his solo. It’s described as a slow, heavy, beautiful song. “I think we’ll enjoy that one a lot when we play it live…it’ll be nice for him to step into the spotlight,” Petri says.
The band reunited with producer Janne Joutsenniemi after previously working with him last on From Afar in 2009. Janne knows how the band writes and plays to their strengths. “It was time to get a fresh start, with a new member in the band…It’s like we didn’t miss a day between, we’re all just eleven years older,” Petri laughs. “He’s still the man on the spot, not giving an inch to anybody to slack, he knows exactly how good we are and how to push that extra mile out of our butts when we need it.”
Writing songs for Ensiferum is a lengthy, drawn-out process, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Main songwriter Markus brings all his ideas to the band at their rehearsal space, and they work through each part together, taking their time to flush out every piece and trying anything that occurs to them in the moment. “That’s why the songwriting for this band is pretty slow, but it’s definitely worth it, and it’s fun to actually be involved with everything, not just one guy going, ‘you do this, you do that’ and boom, you hit the studio. We play around with a lot of ideas.”
The album is out on July 10th, but any touring plans for Ensiferum will be halted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “It sucks, of course, that we aren’t able to go out and play these songs live right away,” Petri laments, but continues, “people still need new music to hear, especially right now. I think it’s really good that new music is getting published, for that reason. And people have more time on their hands, some people can’t work right now. So I see that as a little bit of a positive that right now, this album can help people get through this.”
Speaking on touring, Petri and I discuss the monotonous days that are the touring life, and the remedy for such things. “Every day begins with a super-strong cup of coffee and a cigarette, otherwise it’s gonna suck ass,” he laughs. “Thank god for Netflix, man. It’s a very good entertainment tool. And if I’m in Europe, I bring my Xbox on a portable game briefcase, that’s a lifesaver for a boring day too.” I asked Petri if he had any stories from touring that brought a smile to his face, and he quickly mentioned the first time Ensiferum played the main stage at Wacken Open Air in Germany, which was jaw-dropping for the band. Then he told me a story where a simple mistake could have ended one of their shows much earlier than intended. “It was some small festival, and all the power came from generators run from gasoline. We were on our second song of our set I think, and everything dies- lights, stage, PA system- and we’re like, okay…this is weird. We walk off the stage and it takes us ten minutes to get the info that the generator ran out of gasoline because someone forgot to fill it…and it took maybe another five minutes, and the lights are back, and we think, ‘Okay, what do we do?’, how about we just continue right where we left off? The song was “Into Battle,” second verse. We started right from there. I’ll never forget that.”
When I asked if he had a favourite song off Thalassic, Petri couldn’t pick one track in particular. “I would have to pick all of them. It’s kinda difficult to pick one song over another on this one,” he muses. Petri’s enthusiasm for the work that Ensiferum has achieved on this outing is clear and infectious. They have new blood to energize them, the return of a dominant producer, and the skill and craftsmanship they’ve honed over the last two and a half decades in their favour. For Petri, he knows what gets him out of bed in the morning. “I love doing this…to play live. That is the best thing that I can imagine. I truly feel at home when I’m on stage and that keeps me going. When I feel like that’s not my thing, then it would be time to hang up the guitar…but before that happens, I’m gonna rock my butt off.”
Grab Thalassic when it comes out on July 10th, and witness what the band has created this time around.